By Fredric Nachbaur, Director of Fordham University Press
When I received my certificate from the university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs for successfully completing training to be an ally of support for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Network, I felt very exultant. This seemed very cool to be happening at a Catholic university. After attending two half-day sessions with students, faculty, and other administrators, I received my button and plaque that I proudly display on the wall in my office. Along with my fellow trainees, I am available on campus to offer support to any students or community members who are feeling anxious, unsure, or unsafe about their sexual identity and how it affects their life at Fordham.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs created the network and training program to foster an environment of inclusiveness, awareness, understanding, and open-mindedness. During the sessions, we participated in role playing in which we acted out anonymous student stories confronting homophobia and other hostile situations; discussed LGBT terminology, stereotypes, and common language; and learned about campus and community resources for LGBT students. Guest speakers talked about how we can be good listeners and offer support when needed, and we heard from a student about his journey from closeted high school student to openly gay college student. It was an incredible experience and one that made me feel honored to be a member of the Fordham community.
Soon thereafter a rash of unsettling incidents occurred on campus that undermined the efforts of programs like the LGBT Network. Racial and homophobic slurs were found in the hallways of different buildings on campus both at Rose Hill (Bronx) and Lincoln Center (Manhattan).
Now that this news has hit the national media, as an administrator of the university and the director of Fordham University Press I felt compelled to express my feelings on the series of events. These atypical actions go against everything that Fordham stands for, which is to promote an understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of all our students that is rooted in the Jesuit tenet of Cura Personalis and the principle that all people should be treated with dignity and respect, which is explicit in Catholic teaching. The narrow-mindedness of the individual or group that made these slurs via graffiti should not overshadow the efforts that Fordham has made to work actively toward promoting an environment in which all members of the university community are welcomed and valued.
Fordham University Press has a commitment of mirroring the values and mission of the university that is evident in the types of books it publishes. On our current spring list are two lead titles that exemplify our appreciation of diversity, whether exploring LGBT issues or delving into the history of African Americans.
Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire by Richard Giannone, professor emeritus at Fordham University, is a deeply personal account of the author’s struggle of being gay, Catholic, and caretaker for his dying sister and mother. From Slave Ship to Harvard: Yarrow Mamout and the History of an African American Family by James H. Johnston is the true story of an African American family in Maryland over six generations. A recent backlist title – Civil Rights in New York City: From World War II to the Giuliani Era edited by Clarence Taylor – addresses varying aspects of New York’s civil rights struggle and reaffirms their importance to the larger national fight for equality for Americans across racial lines. These are only three of the many books that represent our effort and desire to publish books that welcome and encourage an understanding and awareness of diversity in the world and that, we hope, will widen people’s understanding and appreciation of race and gender.
As an openly gay man who has recently married (thank you, New York) and is raising a child, it is important to me that I feel welcome on campus, which I do. I have never felt like an outsider and have always been encouraged to be proud of who I am. Fordham has always fostered this atmosphere, which is exemplified by the LGBT training that it offers; the resources available to LGBT students; the diversity of the students, faculty, and staff; and the books published by the university press. The ignorance represented by these recent slurs should not and will not undo all the understanding and awareness that exist at Fordham.